Female migraine sufferers have different brain features than males; Research

Insula and precuneus regions in the brain

Researchers have reported that female patients of migraine have thicker posterior insula and precuneus cortices (in the brain) than males.

This research has been published online in the journal Brain.

It has been estimated through epidemiological surveys in Europe and the United States that women have three times more migraine attacks than men.

Researchers worked on 44 men and women, and about 50% of them were migraine sufferers. They found that the intensity of pain was same in both of the genders but women reported the pain to be more unpleasant.

“In men, the pain comes in, and the brain says ‘ouch,’ ” Nasim Maleki, a medical physicist at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, said.”In women, the brain says ‘OUCHHHHH!’ ”

Researchers also scanned the brains of the participants, while they have no migraines, and worked on two kinds of data sets i.e. brain shapes and brain activity. They found thicker grey matter in females in the two regions of the brain i.e. the posterior insula that is found to be involved in pain processing and the precuneus that is found to be important in the consciousness and recently linked to the migraines while the male migraine sufferers didn’t show this thickening.

You can read the abstract here,

Migraine is twice as common in females as in males, but the mechanisms behind this difference are still poorly understood. We used high-field magnetic resonance imaging in male and female age-matched interictal (migraine free) migraineurs and matched healthy controls to determine alterations in brain structure. Female migraineurs had thicker posterior insula and precuneus cortices compared with male migraineurs and healthy controls of both sexes. Furthermore, evaluation of functional responses to heat within the migraine groups indicated concurrent functional differences in male and female migraineurs and a sex-specific pattern of functional connectivity of these two regions with the rest of the brain. The results support the notion of a ‘sex phenotype’ in migraine and indicate that brains are differentially affected by migraine in females compared with males. Furthermore, the results also support the notion that sex differences involve both brain structure as well as functional circuits, in that emotional circuitry compared with sensory processing appears involved to a greater degree in female than male migraineurs.


Nasim Maleki, Clas Linnman, Jennifer Brawn, Rami Burstein, Lino Becerra and David Borsook, (2012). Her versus his migraine: multiple sex differences in brain function and structure. Brain, doi: 10.1093/brain/aws175


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